Gov. Rell works to lower risks from mosquitoes

The mosquitoes are coming, and Governor M. Jodi Rell wants to know what Connecticut can do to stop them.

Because of this spring’s unusually high amount of rain, Rell has requested that her Mosquito Management Team prepare a special briefing on the state’s mosquito readiness, her office said Friday. Rell’s concern comes in light of the spread of the West Nile virus in recent years, which sickened nine Connecticut residents last year and resulted in the death of an elderly New Haven woman.

“I want make sure we are doing all we need to do to keep mosquito activity as low as possible,” Rell said in a statement. “The health and well-being of Connecticut’s residents is my primary concern.”

Rell’s request comes in an attempt to prepare for this year’s forthcoming mosquito invasion — which could be of particular concern because of last week’s heavy rain, the wet Nor’easter earlier this month and the flooding that has ensued, Rell spokesman Adam Liegeot ’94 said. Mosquitoes breed in standing water and tend to live around such bodies of water.

“The Governor wants to err on the side of caution,” he said. “She wants to get ahead and head off any potential problems now rather than in the 90 degree July weather when it may be too late.”

In response to Rell’s request, the Mosquito Management Team — an interagency group that includes officials from the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Public Health — is preparing a letter to the governor detailing the state’s current mosquito preparedness, DEP spokesman Dwayne Gardner said.

DEP officials are already out in the field meeting with local officials and assessing the mosquito situation, Gardner said. Officials from the Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station will begin trapping and testing mosquitoes for the West Nile virus in the beginning of June, he said.

The mosquito situation in New Haven has been dire in recent years, although the University has survived relatively bite-free, mostly because of its location away from water. But the West River neighborhood south of Whalley Avenue and near the West Haven border was deemed a “hot spot” for the West Nile virus last year, and the state stepped up spraying in that area last fall after an elderly woman died of the virus.

In West River, mosquitoes pose a “huge concern” to residents, particularly senior citizens who are especially vulnerably to West Nile, Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah said this weekend. In response to concerns over the virus last year, Shah said, he was able to lobby the city to provide mosquito repellent to his neighborhood senior center, which helped allay some fears.

Mosquito Management Team aside, Shah said the state should not only spray vulnerable areas with nontoxic chemicals but should also help arm at-risk residents with repellent and distribute up-to-date information to help keep citizens informed of the mosquito danger.

“If the state really wants to help in that area, they can … provide DEET [insect repellent] to every single solitary family with children and senior citizens,” he said. “Every year, the issue comes up. When are they going to spray? Are they going to give us DEET?”

But faced with controversy over her repeated vows to veto a proposed law legalizing gay marriage and under fire from her own party for launching Democrat-like tax increases as part of this year’s budget, Rell may have struck political gold with the mosquito crackdown. Among Yale students interviewed this weekend, Democrat and Republican alike, all were in favor of getting tough with mosquitoes.

Since 1999, when the virus first appeared in Connecticut, 57 state residents have contracted the virus, and four have died. The New Haven woman who died last fall was the state’s only death due to mosquitoes last year.

But because most people who are bitten by a mosquito do not contract the disease, and some who do get the virus never even feel symptoms, mosquitoes do not pose a major health threat to the state, Gardner said.

“One fatality is one too many, so we take necessary precautions,” he said. “But it’s not that big of a health risk.”

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